Local not necessarily green? [Science]

2009 Jul 23

I found this article on CBC and it raised an interesting point, that the efficiency of agriculture at source may be more important in some cases then the effort in transportation, at least as far as energy requirements / CO2 emissions are concerned. What are your thoughts?

2009 Jul 23
Buying local is as much about supporting local businesses for me as it is about being "green" or "eco-friendly".

I really think that in an ideal world, I would like to eat a lot more whole foods, and that that would probably decrease the amount of energy output require to produce what I eat.

But then again, I'm a bit of noob when it comes to this.

2009 Jul 23
Perfectly understandable, there are a host of different reasons for buying local. I tend to make my food decisions first on flavour, next on environmental impact and third on supporting local buisnesses. I'm not quite noble enough to avoid tropical fruit despite the envionmental impact because, honestly, I am like all humans and like tasty food. Still, environmental impact is rather key for me as a damaged environment will no longer be capable of supporting either us or the ecosystems we depend on.

2009 Jul 23
There are other ethical questions about the 100 mile diet to consider outside of just being green. While I do enjoy buying local consider this - do all your local producers sell their product with in 100 miles or do they also dump as much of it as they can on other markets - particularly in emerging economies? If you take corn for example - although I'd never buy corn grown less than 10km from where I live - corn and corn products are subsidized and dumped from Canada and especially from the US on many developing countries at rates which the local producers can not compete with. For the poor, there is no choice but to buy the cheapest, and in turn this increases poverty, and reliance on foreign producers.

Just more food for thought. I like buying local when I can, but have no issues buying fair trade coffees, or other products that may help emerging economies.

2009 Jul 23
I like CBC for its wine reviews, easy listening programs, its un-wavaring promotion (until the cocaine incident) of the Barenaked Ladies (go Canada?), etc.

about this article: couldn't they have at least asked someone like David Suzuki to proof-read it before it went to press? I'm no ecologist or environmental studies major, but i'm scratching my head at things like this:

"When you're that efficient you can invest in better handling and storage," he says. "The environmental impact of transportation isn't very significant."

Connecting sentences (ideas?), anyone?

2009 Jul 24
I actually am an ecologist and I can certainly see the validity of some of the original article, even if the journalism has a few slip-ups. It is true that in terms of traditional agro-buisness, california is far more productive in terms of oil used for cultivation vs yield. One of the hidden elements there is that in at least some of those locations, I doubt he is accounding for the costs of irrigation nor the inherent problems with agribuisness models. When you get down to it, they are saying "a greenhouse tomato from Ottawa is more environmentally harmful then one grown in California" which is fairly reasonable as a statement so long as the numbers agree with the statement.

I will gladly explain any of the particular elements of the article if anyone has questions or confusion.

2009 Jul 24
I normally buy local, e.g. farmer's market, butcher with local sources because the food is generally:

1) Better tasting, some exceptions obviously
2) Hormone free, antibiotic free, pesticide free etc., which is *probably* better for you.

2009 Jul 24
I like to know who is producing my food, because it is far easier for me to know how it is produced.

Also as I just mentioned in another thread, 50 years from now transporting food great distances may not be feasible just like it was not 70 years ago.

Peak oil ...

2009 Jul 24
""a greenhouse tomato from Ottawa is more environmentally harmful then one grown in California" which is fairly reasonable as a statement so long as the numbers agree with the statement."

Jagash - Interesting... I would think that a place like SunTech - SunTech Greenhouses would be less costly overall than shipping me hot-house tomatoes from far off California. The basic costs would probably be similiar (plants, irrigation, packing materials). The differences I suppose would be the costs for labour (Canadian manpower being more expensive than American), heat (although Suntech uses some sort of heat recovery system) and transportation / distribution. Obviously a tomato coming to me from California is going to have a lot of costs associated with getting it to my table from the Hot-House by truck across the border, and then to a distribution centre, and then more trucking. Thinking that said tomatoe will have made their way from California to TO, and then to Ottawa, and then to my local store. Whereas a Suntech tomato would just have a trip to the local distribution centre and then to my store.

Of course I would think I would much prefer the local tomato, because not only is it local and thereby reaches my table sooner and with better quality, but it has been given time to ripen naturally right on the vine, as opposed to being picked early, and ripening enroute (not to mention if it has been "treated" in anyway to preserve it longer for the travel etc. before it gets to my table).

The downside... is that just like with Farmers' Markets there is a price for this... local veggies generally tend to cost more than those that are mass-produced and shipped in. But knowing that the local ones tend to be fresher and less "treated" then I am prepared to pay that difference.

In the case of local hot-houses, I'm wondering if the mass-produced far-off corporations really have any credibility with this quoted statement... maybe the BIG mass producers are trying to scare off local competition?

2009 Jul 24
California for example has a number of advantages that we do not. Firstly, the natural growing seasons are _significantly_ longer in California, without the aid of greenhouses. In addition to the differences in heat, there is also far more sunlight which means that photosynthesis is far more efficient. Accordingly, the produce grows faster/larger. The essential principle is that you can get less mass of tomato out of a square meter of Ottawa farmland then you can out of a square meter of Californian. If you need 20% more land for the same amount of product for example, that means that your inputs in terms of fossil fuels will be 20% more on average. The researcher was saying that said hypthetical 20% increase was a larger amount of CO2 emissions then the additional emissions caused by transporting from California.

Transportation is also relevant, cheifly in terms of scale. On of the large mono-culture agri-buisnesses will be able to send in bulk to single distribution centres with the maximum efficiency in transportation. If you have dozens of different smaller producers, the distribution costs go up slightly.

The big mass producers don't need to try to falsify science, they already have a price advantage due to economies of scale and gmo foods. The science/economics there in the article seem legit to my eyes though it is important to understand that it is a rather limited statement being made. Certain crops, not adapted to local conditions, are less efficient in growing and therefore have a proportionatly larger CO2 footprint which may often be greater then the transportation emissions. Nothing more and nothing less then that.

Local foods are still supporting local jobs, are more likely to be sustainable, are more likely to be lower in pesticides, are not gmo products (though that is a far more complex topic), and are faster from farm to plate. It's just that some fruits and vegetables have higher emissions when grown here relatively.

2009 Jul 24
hi Jagash, i knew (from your profile and previous mentions, i think?) that you're an ecologist, and respectfully defer (and am receptive) to your expertise on all of this.

My initial response to the (substance of the) article itself was sort of "ho hum ... AND?"

The idea that tomatoes grown locally *may* carry a higher environmental footprint than ones grown in California seems not too profound or unexpected, and so i appreciate your own additional commentary / interpretation to help flesh out the dynamics and the limitations of the findings.

2009 Aug 30
www.slate.com did an analysis of it and the energy for transportation is very small compared to the energy for agriculture, especially if you consider foods like beef. I like mangoes and I like sushi, neither would be available without globalization and efficient transportation. But I love gardening too and grow a lot of my own food, especially vegetables and fruits that don't transport or handle well and are therefore not sold commercially.

Did you know a vegan driving a hummer has a smaller carbon footprint than a meat eater driving a prius?

I recently read an article in Time about Obama's Nobel Prize Winning Energy Czar. In the article it mentioned that if we all switched to white roof houses (or I guess a white or reflective covering would do as well) it would be the equivalent energy saving as taking every car off the roads for 11 years!

2009 Aug 30
It depends on where you source your meat, too : Grass fed vs grain fed. Search for my Diet for a Small Planet thread. Grain fed beef has something like 5x the carbon footprint of grass fed.